Community building,  Friendship,  Parenting

Supporting Friendships: What Can We Do?

“Make new friends, but keep the old

One is silver and another gold,

A circle is round, it has no end

That’s how long I want to be your friend”

Here is a little song that we have been singing with our kids this year. At Hatfield, one of our core tenets is community. We want to model and present a society grounded on respect, love and curiosity. We see these characteristics emerging from the children after six months of living in our community. The isolating pandemic left us with a group of children yearning for one another’s company. They want to engage, laugh and play with one another to feed their need for connection. As holistic educators, we cannot ignore this need and therefore work towards supporting this with a whole heart.

In April, Martin Pinchen shared his thoughts on building links in school communities on one of our Thursday Zoom Talks. He spoke heartfully about connecting with parents to support the community. The first little link we want to extend is supporting friendship creation and connection. How can we support this fundamental need as children enter the social sphere?

For many of the children in our environment, this is the first time they have encountered other people their age. They work, sleep, eat and play with 29 other children their age – something very foreign from home. With this in mind, we must understand that this is an adaptation for our children. It takes time to learn the social norms in the class. Adapting is challenging and can result in some hiccups or mistakes. However, the most remarkable thing we can learn from our children is that one day is just that. The next is different! So, let’s not cling to those bad days but move forward with our children and ask how we can do the next day differently.

What are friendships for a child of 3-6 years?

During this first development plane, the child is doing the groundwork for constructing their personality. They are establishing their likes and their dislikes. They are starting to understand that they have wants and needs and are figuring out how to vocalise these. The child doesn’t do this in isolation; instead, they have a space filled with 29 other children doing the same!

Friendships start by searching for a mirror. The children want to find people that resonate with what they are constructing. These friendships are different to adult friendships. They ground themselves on a quick like-ness. The child is searching for someone that can reflect who and what they might want to be.  In our classroom, I’ve seen a child wearing a unicorn shirt gravitate toward another with a unicorn shirt. And they declare that they are best friends. Or another day, one would sweep the slide with another, and they would say one another best friends. The relatability is based on the physical likeness or a moment they shared that resulted in a positive emotional reaction.  Happiness means friendship in the child’s mind – what a wonderful occasion to witness!

After time spent in the casa (‘home’), the more these friends gravitate towards one another,  the deeper the connection is formed. A love for another friend can show itself in the most beautiful ways. It might be deciding to swap toys for the week, and it might be running up to their friend if they’ve fallen from the log, or it might be giving them a hug when they don’t want to leave mum.

These beautiful friendships take time to develop.  At first there are many connections that do not dive as deep as one would think. And that’s okay too. This is where parents come in. As guides, caregivers and parents we want our children to be happy and to engage with other children. We might cling on to the first name we hear from a child and declare them their best friend. To your child they might be, but just for that day. Your child noticed something in another person that they believe would aid the construction of their personality.

So, how can we support our children’s friendships?

Asking Questions

How about asking your child what other friends they made that day? This starts the conversation of how magical it is having more than just one friend. Plus, you get to learn all the many names of the other children too! Ask who they sat next to during snack time, or who they slept next to during nap time, who arrived at the same time as them etc. Engaging in these sorts of conversations provides your child with meaningful reflection of the day, it could also be a time to discuss what they’d like to do differently tomorrow. Maybe on one day they didn’t sit with A because A said she didn’t want to be friends with her.  What sort of advice or words could we offer our children if we hear something like this?

First, we need to understand that time for a child is nothing like it is for us. Their perception of time is present – a little gift we can hold on to. A best friend now is not the best friend tomorrow. Having no friends at school isn’t going to be the case for tomorrow. A child might say that they have no friends at school – and yet we as guides have noticed them playing with many children throughout the day. But the friend they wanted to play with was busy with someone else on that particular day.

Remind your child that it’s okay to not have a “best friend” that day, asking them about the other friends in the space will redirect this thought and remind them of all the other people they might have connected with that day.

Here are some things we do in the environment that you could practice with your child, at a party, playdate or even in the park.

Indirectly Linking Children

If you’re with them, help them by learning to observe what the others are doing. This can be done by asking questions: “What do you think A is doing there in the garden?” or “Do you think he might need a helping hand with that heavy bucket?” From this observation point we are instilling a sense of patience and intention with how play can start with friends. Next, you might offer them words to use in order to join in on the play: “Do you need some help with that bucket?” or “I see you guys are weeding the garden, could I join?”

By modelling patience and interest in what other people are doing, your child will develop their empathy and interest in others. Following this your child will build their confidence and have the tools to play and work with other children based on what they see around them. The more opportunities a child has to see, the more they notice.

Emotional Intelligence

The more the child notices, the more words they will need to express these sightings. We can offer the child words to practice expressing their feelings. If the child is sad about A sitting with B, we can say that it is okay to voice this to A, or if A is outright ignoring you it’s okay not to sit with her but to go find C who was with you the other day.

Within the classroom, we offer Grace and Courtesy lessons to the children. These are role-playing lessons where children are offered the language to communicate effectively. The children use these to generate an ethos of living in the community. These lessons might be “inviting a friend to play” or “offering comfort” or “saying stop, that hurts”. Each lesson is specially crafted to have clear, emotive phrases the children can remember. After the role-play, we wait for them to put them into practice beyond the classroom.

Grace and courtesy lessons are a tool we use to set the standard of interaction in a classroom. These sorts of lessons are planned based on what we see as the needs in the classroom; a whole set of other lessons are offered at home. We’d love to hear about how you implement these at home.

Friendship support can be filled with tears and heartbreak. Still, by offering our children the words for expressing this and the tools for meaningful friendship creation, we are setting the tone for a future generation founded on respect and unity. Here is a little reminder from Montessori:

“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

Food for Thought

These are some of our musings on how and why children create friendships; if you have any other ideas, we’d love to hear them. Be it other techniques on supporting friendships or if you’re interested in a chat about this, please feel free to catch up with any of the guides at school.

by Ellen-Anne Williams

Contact us for more information.

One Comment

  • Annettte

    So true, a bestie today is not a friend tomorrow. Tough being 5!

    I try to encourage my little person to play with other friends and to show the little ones (younger children) who are perceived as being rude and don’t know how to play , by the very grown up 5 year old , how to behave and be friends with others . We journey on, building friendships one day at a time.

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